Archive for Drinks

Last bits of summer: plum honey wine.

plumhoneywine.jpgI made a lovely drink on the spur of the moment the other day when it was really hot out.

I took an overripe plum and squished it up in the bottom of a wine glass, then added some of our homemade honey wine and a few crushed mint leaves. It tasted like summer.

Honey wine is incredibly easy to make. Just mix 1 part honey with 3 parts water and let it sit out in a crock for a few days, stirring often. (A towel over the top keeps the critters out.) After it starts to bubble and foam, put it in a jug with an airlock and wait.

You can start tasting it after a month or so. For the first few months, it will still be quite sweet — in the style of T’ej, Ethiopian honey wine. (Honey’s complex sugars take a long time to ferment.) After six months or a year, it will be much dryer, more like a northern European mead.

I like to taste ours as often as possible — the flavors change almost every day. This last batch tasted like everything from apples to chocolate over the course of its fermentation.

(As always, if you’ve never made wine or beer before, it’s good to read up. I suggest Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz.)

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Simmering: winter fun with stockpot and teapot.

This month’s herbal blog party is “Winter Recipes,” hosted by Dreamseeds.

Most of my winter herbal recipes involve long-simmering pots on the back of my woodstove. Tasty broths and teas that warm a person from the inside out, and make the house smell good too.

Winter is a time for concentrated, warm foods. Put away the leafy summer herbs, and get out the roots, seeds and spices. Valerian, licorice, sarsaparilla. Flaxseeds, cardamom, nutmeg. Cinnamon, ginger, cloves.

The best way to stay healthy in the winter is not to fight the fact that it’s winter. In winter, things move more slowly. We need to sleep more. We need richer, fattier foods. In winter, as mammals, we need to stay warm. (It’s quite common for people to forget to dress warmly enough for the season. It’s not unreasonable to wear a scarf indoors if you live in a drafty house.)

Good long-simmered bone broth is the best winter food I know. It’s rich in protein (gelatin) and minerals, and it warms you “to the bone.” Add some vegetables and call it soup. Use it to cook rice or beans. Or just drink it straight with a pinch of salt.

Here’s how to keep a stockpot:

1. Always save bones. (Yes, even bones that people have gnawed on. All that simmering will take care of any contamination.) Keep them in a jar or a bag in your freezer. You can separate them by animal if you like, or lump them all together for “mixed stock.”

2. When you’ve collected a good pile of bones, put them in a pot and cover them with cold water. (You can add a dash of vinegar if you like, to help draw minerals from the bones.) Put the pot over low heat. Let it come to a gentle simmer. If you’re using a gas or electric stove, turn the heat down as far as it will go. If you’ve got the stock on a woodstove, move it to a cool corner or put it up on a trivet. (I’m told you can make stock in a crockpot, too. But I’ve never used a crockpot, so I don’t know how that works.)

3. Leave the stock on gentle, low heat for 12-48 hours. (Yes, I know that’s a long time. It really does make the best stock, though.) Check on the stock every once in a while and add water if it needs it. If you’re using raw bones, there will likely be quite a bit of foamy scum that comes to the surface. Just skim it off — a little tea strainer works well for this. Try not to let the stock boil. Low heat is best for extracting gelatin. (Don’t kick yourself if it accidentally boils, though. Just turn it down. Your stock may be a little cloudy, but it will taste fine.)

4. When you can’t stand it any longer, strain out the bones. If there is a lot of fat on top, skim it off and save it for cooking (a little jar of fat in the fridge is a lovely thing). Now you have stock to play with! What will you make?

You can add warming winter spices to your stock if you like. But my favorite way to take warming spices is in tea. In winter, my “teas” are usually decoctions, simmered on the stove until they perfume the house.

Here are some of my favorite winter teas.

For people who get dry and cold in the winter: flaxseeds (Linum usitatissimum), cassia / cinnamon (Cinnamomum aromaticum), ginger (Zingiber officinale), cloves (Syzygium aromaticum), cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum) and nutmeg (Myristica fragrans).

For people who get a lot of sore throats and swollen lymph nodes in the winter: echinacea root (Echinacea angustifolia or Echinacea purpurea), red root (Ceanothus americanus), marshmallow root (Althaea officinalis).

For people who feel drained in the winter: wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis), licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra), ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) (use only organic ginseng, “woods-grown” if possible).

For people who get cold hands and feet in the winter: valerian (Valeriana officinalis), cramp bark (Viburnum opulus), wild ginger (Asarum canadense) (harvest wild ginger only if it’s locally abundant; “regular” ginger can be used instead).

Oh, yes, and for everyone, because it’s so tasty: pink ginger tea. (This is, of course, one of the best things to drink when you’re down with the flu.)

Happy simmering!

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Preserving the harvest: elderberry wine.

elderberrywine.JPGWine-making is one of my favorite ways to preserve the harvest. And elderberry wine is a classic. It’s so tasty—a bit like sherry or port.

I’ll tell you how I make it. But if you’ve never made wine before, I’d suggest a bit of reading before you start your own. My favorite book on fermentation of all sorts (including pickles, beer, and even miso) is Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz. He tells you what you need to know without getting too technical.

First collect elderberries. Lots of elderberries. Several big grocery bags full, if you want to make a five-gallon batch. (I remember climbing around in the creek with my friends when I was little, picking elderberries for our parents’ winemaking.)

Clean and de-stem your elderberries. De-stemming can be tedious. Some people use a fork, but I don’t mind getting my fingers purple. If the mess bothers you, you can freeze the clusters of berries on cookie sheets. Once they’re frozen, they come off the stems more easily.

Measure your berries. How many gallons do you have? Write this down somewhere.

Now, put your berries in a large crock or bucket—something big enough to hold them, with several inches left over at the top for foam. Pour enough boiling water over the berries to barely cover them. Cover the crock with a towel and leave it to steep for a day or so.

After the berries have had time to steep, add a packet of wine yeast. (Some people use baking yeast, but I’d suggest seeking out the wine yeast at a brew shop or online. Baking yeast can give off flavors.) Stir well.

Measure out 3 pounds of sugar for every gallon of elderberries you had. (Go find your notes.) Put the sugar in a pot with about a cup of water per pound of sugar. Heat until the sugar is entirely melted into a syrup. Cool the syrup and add it to the berries. (Sandorkraut suggests leaving the berries to ferment on their own for a few days before adding the sugar.)

Ferment the wine for four or five days, or until major bubbling has subsided. Stir it every day, several times a day—as often as you remember.

When it’s ready, strain the wine into a carboy or another container that will take an airlock. Make sure to squeeze all the juice out of the berries. Put an airlock on the carboy, and put the whole thing somewhere dark and not too cold. Leave it for a couple of months.

When you’re ready, siphon it into a clean carboy, leaving the “lees” (yeast residue) behind. You can taste it at this point, but it’ll likely be a little harsh. It needs a good six months or a year to mature. Leave it in a cool closet somewhere. (Don’t forget to check the airlock every once in a while to see if the water needs to be replenished.)

Bottle your wine in time for the following winter. In our house, we often drink a little glass after dinner as a winter tonic (and because it tastes really good). You can also use it just as you’d use any other elderberry preparation. It’s one of my favorites for staying healthy during flu season, and to support recovery from colds and flu.

I love to make herbal preparations that are as delicious as they are “good for you.” So elderberry wine is high on my list. It really is worth the wait.

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Citrus season: candied grapefruit peel (and bitters too).

Candied Grapefruit PeelLast week someone gave me a lovely ripe grapefruit from a backyard tree in Florida. Quite a gift when there’s 3 feet of snow on the ground.

The peel was so aromatic I couldn’t bear to compost it, so I did what my great-grandmother used to do: I made candied grapefruit peel. And while I was at it I made a bitter liqueur from the cooking water.

Candied grapefruit peel was a Christmas tradition at Nanny’s house, but I think it’s wonderful any time of year. It tastes like essence of grapefruit—perfumed, and a little bit sharp. (I don’t remember Nanny ever making bitters from the cooking water, but I’m sure she would have loved the idea.)

To make the candied grapefruit peel:

Slice up some grapefruit peel and remove most of the white pith.

Put the slices of peel in a pot with enough water to cover them by about an inch. Add a pinch of salt.

Bring the mixture to a boil and simmer it for 15 minutes or so. Drain the peels and set aside the cooking water to make liqueur. Return the peels to the pot, add fresh water, bring it to a boil, and simmer it for another 15 minutes. Drain again (don’t forget to reserve the cooking water).

Now return the peels to the pot with about 1/2 cup sugar per grapefruit. Stir and lift them gently with a fork over low-medium heat until all the liquid has evaporated. Be careful about sticking. (This should take maybe 20 minutes.)

Once the liquid has evaporated, spread the candied peels out on wax paper to dry. (Nanny used to roll them in more sugar, but I don’t think it’s necessary.)

You have candied grapefruit peel!

To make the bitter grapefruit liqueur:

This recipe depends on what kind of alcohol you have. It’s easiest if you have 190 proof grain alcohol, but you can also make it with vodka if you can’t get grain alcohol.

If you have 190 proof grain alcohol: Bring the reserved cooking water to a simmer with 1/2 cup sugar per cup of water. Let it cool and then add 1/3 cup alcohol per cup of liquid.

If you have 100 proof vodka: Bring the reserved cooking water to a boil and reduce it by about a third. Now add 2/3 cup sugar per cup of water. Stir to dissolve. Let it cool and then add 1 cup of vodka per cup of liquid.

Bitter liqueurs like this one are a great way to get your digestive system ready for a meal. Take a little bit mixed with water (or something more creative) about a half hour before you eat. A classic aperitif.

Related post: Citrus season: pickled lemons.

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Winter flu care: pink ginger tea.

Pink Ginger Tea

My favorite herbs for flu care are diaphoretics, to stimulate sweating.*

I like diaphoretics because they support the body’s natural response rather than “fighting” the illness. (I’m not a big fan of the body-as-battleground theory of disease, but that’s a topic for another post.)

Some of my favorite diaphoretic herbs: lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), bee balm (Monarda didyma or M. fistulosa), yarrow (Achillea millefolium), elder flowers & berries (Sambucus nigra) and ginger (Zingiber officinale).

Elderberry and ginger make a delicious tea that you might want to drink all winter, whether you’re sick or not!

To make pink ginger tea:

Slice up 2-3 inches of fresh ginger.

Put the ginger in a pot and cover it with about a quart of water.

Add 2-3 tablespoons of elderberry (frozen, canned, juice, syrup or dried).

Simmer the mixture until it tastes strongly of ginger—usually at least 15 minutes. (The tea turns a muddy purple-brown as it simmers. Don’t worry, we’ll fix it.)

When it’s ready, remove the tea from the heat, let it sit a minute to cool, and add good quality raw honey** to taste. (Don’t boil raw honey. You’ll kill the enzymes.)

Now for the magic. Squeeze the juice from one small or half a large lemon. Add it to the tea. Watch the color change from muddy to clear pink!

Drink hot, preferably while wrapped in a blanket.

*The simple definition of diaphoretic: an agent that stimulates sweating. But as Samuel Potter points out in his 1902 Materia Medica, diaphoretic is derived from the Greek meaning “I carry through.” Diaphoretic herbs help carry heat and energy through the body, promoting excretion through the skin.

**You have to be careful with honey. Most US beekeepers use toxic miticides to keep their bees alive. Talk to your beekeeper, buy organic honey (expensive, if you can get it), or use a reliable supplier like Honey Gardens in Vermont.

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Homemade liqueurs.

Finished liqueurs.

Liqueur is very easy to make. For Christmas this year, I made five different flavors from citrus peel, herbs and spices. From left to right: Tangerine Spice (with nutmeg and cloves), Chocolate Orange, Orange Saffron, Mint Lime, and Meyer Lemon Cardamom.

This is how I made them:

First I grated each kind of citrus peel into its own mason jar and covered it with grain alcohol. I covered each jar and let them sit for a few days, until the color of the citrus peels had completely leached into the alcohol.

Then I strained the liquids, put them back in the mason jars and added the next ingredients (spices, cocoa, saffron, mint and cardamom, respectively). I let them sit for a few more days, and then added about 3 parts light simple syrup to the 1 part alcohol mixture in each jar.

Then I waited a few more days, strained the liqueurs, tasted them, adjusted for strength (I had to add more syrup to some that were too strong) and bottled them.

Really, it’s mostly a question of waiting. And they are worth the wait. The Meyer Lemon Cardamom is my favorite—I like to mix it with sparkling water and maybe a little vodka. The Mint Lime and Orange Saffron are great that way too. The Chocolate Orange is good with milk, and I’m going to try making hot bourbon toddies with the Tangerine Spice.

(That’s my stone grinder in the background of the photo. It’s one of my favorite kitchen things ever. I promise to blog about it soon.)

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